Thursday, June 18, 2009

27. Valencia by Michelle Tea

I am perhaps not the kind of girl that one would expect to be reading a Lambda Award winner for Best Lesbian Fiction. Not because I have anything against lesbians, but I am generally averse to stream-of-consciousness, whiney memoirs, and overkill sex scenes. At risk of gushing, I will say I found Valencia beautiful in language and spirit. Even though it fit all the aspects of a book I would most expect to find contemptible.

The opening seemed to prove my hypothesis, that it would be pretentious and vulgar. Tea describes how "little tsunamis of beer" cascade down her T-shirt one night, as she tries to impress a girl she is crushing on. Typical fucked-up girl memoir, trying to use pretty language to seem meaningful, I thought. Backtracking to why I was reading it in the first place...I saw it in the library and remembered an old friend had raved and raved about it. Figured it was different from my usual stuff and gave it a shot.

You can look at Valencia the way I wanted to when I started reading. There isn't much more to it than San Francisco, dyke life, and drugs. But whether I was in the right mood or what, it seemed insightful and true to me as I read.

Tea describes her drunken, stoned, and sober adventures and her experiences with the girls she chases after. She has long-term and short-term relationships with women over the course of the novel, as well as tumultuous relationships with friends and acquaintances. Tea is an assertive, sometime aggressive, character who pursues life vigorously and impulsively. Through her words, you can get in the head of the loudmouth at the party, who is also the clingy girlfriend, also your angry, volatile, emotional, but lovable best friend.

Perhaps that's what sets her memoir apart. I'm a quiet girl, in awe of girls like her. I feel like many writers are. When she combines her view with her talent for wordsmithing, the result is entrancing. Tea uses the best points of stream of consciousness, a flowing rhythm that expresses thought and feeling, without the frustrating constructions of Joyce, or annoying lack of punctuation or organization like Eggers.

Valencia is for those who can take hard-core lesbian sex scenes and drug abuse scenes, both of which are fairly consistent throughout the book. It's maybe one for aspiring writers too, and maybe later for historians or LGBT theorists and whatnot. I'd recommend it to friends, both male and female too.

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